Food Addictions


Certain foods affect our brain chemistry more than others which can make them highly addictive. 

People usually become addicted to junk foods and the effect is as complex as drug addiction. Food addictions are not merely a lack of willpower, they are caused by a neurotransmitter imbalance that affects the brain’s biochemistry.

Several brain chemicals, including dopamine and serotonin, play a big role in food cravings. Our brain chemicals, or neurotransmitters, are created from the foods we eat.

Dopamine is linked to our experience of pleasure; and processed, or junk foods, impact the reward center of the brain. Foods that people generally become addicted to include sweets and sugary foods, fried or fatty foods, fizzy drinks, and refined carbohydrates. People with low levels of serotonin are more likely to crave carbohydrates and dairy products.

Food addiction involves irresistible cravings for unhealthy foods, whether a person is hungry or not, and, despite the health consequences. People with food addictions may often overeat, and despite the guilt they often feel, they repeat the cycle over and over again.

Many people feel like food is a reward if they are stressed or if they are going through a difficult time and so unhealthy associations with food can develop when we try to soothe ourselves with food. 

Food addictions may be more socially acceptable than drug or alcohol addictions, but they have very similar symptoms and causes. Overeating on the wrong types of foods can cause chronic health issues such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and mood disorders.

Many people with food addictions struggle with low self-esteem and self-hatred as well as problems with their mental health, like depression and anxiety.

Our energy and thoughts are shaped partially by our nutrition so we should understand that the food we eat can influence our mood either positively or negatively.

In her book, Constant Craving, Doreen Virtue has identified underlying emotional reasons for the types of foods we crave. Many can be linked to deficiencies in the body and often if those deficiencies and emotional reasons are addressed, we are more likely to be able to overcome food addictions.

Here are some common foods that we eat that fulfill a specific emotional role:

Dairy products                                Antidepressant effects

Salty or crunchy snacks                Stress, anxiety, and anger relief

Spicy foods                                       Lack of excitement

Bread, rice, pasta                           Needing comfort and calming

Cookies, cakes, pies                       Craving hugs, reassurance, pleasure

Sweets                                               Needing to be rewarded

High-fat foods                                 A need to fill emotional emptiness

Chocolate                                         Deprived of love

Sometimes we crave foods because we are deficient in nutrients, but it is unlikely that we will crave junk foods without some or other underlying emotional issue as well.

The four primary emotions behind emotional eating are:

  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Tension
  • Shame

Ignored emotions intensify, but many of us think that if we ignore them, they will go away. Our bodies are just too complex for that. We all need an outlet for our emotions. Eating unhealthy foods in large quantities, to the detriment of our wellbeing, is not the answer. Food addictions and emotional eating are complex, so seeking professional help is also a vital step in being able to overcome them.

Listen to my interview with Brad Kirsten from Radio Cape Pulpit on 13 October 2022 to learn more. Listen to my next interview on Thursday at 7.45am